The description, cover, and title combination for Lakesedge caught my attention right away, and I was glad to be granted an advanced copy. The story itself pulled me in right away, with intriguing world building and a strong older sister fighting to keep her younger brother safe in an abusive environment. The magic/ religious system in the story is interesting and cohesive, and the world as described seemed welcoming and pleasant. Well, mostly. At first. Then the magic really started. And the romance. And the drama. And the impulsive and often self-destructive decisions.

Violetta is extremely self-sacrificing when it comes to protecting her loved ones, and not good at caring for herself at all. The more you get to understand the trauma she has been through, the more her behavior makes sense, but it still gets a little tiresome after awhile. I felt like this was very YA, with maximum angst, both familial and romantic. There’s also some sort of love triangle, and the story ends on a cliffhanger. I keep forgetting that “lush” as a book descriptor means all the purple prose describing everything, and while this book wasn’t terrible, I got a little tired of hearing about how everything tastes like ash or burned sugar or poison or whatever, and how there were strings tied from / tightening her heart, etc. And this is very much my own preference, but some of the things these characters, especially Leta, went through, and the losses they endured, just felt like too much. I could see how the writing is gothic fantasy bordering on horror.

I did love the LGBTQ+ rep, as multiple supporting characters had same sex preferences or were bi/pan, and Leta appeared to be demisexual. And while this is wholly a fantasy setting, and Violetta and her brother are fair skinned and red headed, there’s also a fair amount of supporting characters who are described as having darker skin, curly hair, etc. Also, women have a lot of agency in this story, and while most of the people with leadership roles in the story (lords, village leaders, etc) were male, several of the female characters filled important professional roles and all the women were treated with respect. (The characters definitely existed on a gender binary, and there was no non-binary representation that I can remember.

Overall this was an enjoyable, if sometimes slightly redundant and slow read. I finished it in a few days around the autumn holidays. While I’m not sure I’ll bother reading the sequel, I nevertheless appreciate #NetGalley and Macmillan granting me a free electronic advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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An Almost Zero Waste Life

I’m not sure why, after more than 20 years of trying to be an environmentalist, and trying to live as sustainably as possible in the broken and destructive capitalist system we live in, I still try to read books like An Almost Zero Waste Life. Because here’s the thing: I keep hoping I’ll learn something new. Something I somehow hadn’t already learned about yet, that will help me do my part even more. And I didn’t really have that experience, but that is not the fault of the book. I’m probably not the intended audience.

I assume this book is more for those more recently interested in sustainable, low waste living. This is a lovely book, charmingly (if not sturdily) bound and illustrated, full of tips and tricks for those who are aspiring to sustainable living, but don’t have a grasp on it yet. Some of it seems very obvious. For instance, stop using disposable items, whether utensils, paper towels, facial tissues, personal care products, etc.–when you can use reusable ones instead. There’s a lot of simple recipes for cleaning and personal care products as well as food, like toothpaste and almond milk and eyeshadow and laundry powder, that look relatively easy to assemble and use. I’m especially intrigued by a facial scrub made with used coffee grounds, coconut oil, and brown sugar. 

However, some of the tips, especially some of the ones involving bathroom or diaper needs–seem a little….gross and/or a hassle. Some suggestions definitely seem like the kind of tasks only someone who doesn’t work full time would have time to do regularly.  There are sections about the kitchen, the bathroom, toiletries, children, pets, housekeeping, home maintenance, holidays, and various sorts of shopping. Then the book culminates with a list of 30 steps that the reader can take to attain zero waste (or close to it) living. Throughout the book the author maintains a gentle and encouraging tone. While maybe some of the goals seemed unrealistic or extremely onerous to me, I never felt berated or shamed if I didn’t try them.  As the title suggests, the author admits that at best we may achieve an ALMOST zero waste life, but encourages the reader to get as close to that goal as possible.  

Overall a pleasant read that would be a good resource for someone new to the subject. Be gentle with the book, though, if you get a physical copy. The presumably eco-friendly binding and cover don’t seem especially sturdy. Or, better yet, get a copy from the library, as a way to be even closer to zero waste.  

Thank you to #NetGalley and Quarto Books for sharing a free #advancecopy of #AnAlmostZeroWasteLife with me. I’m sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it (thanks, pandemic reading slump!). This review is based on both the PDF advance copy I received and a physical copy I borrowed from the library.

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Artificial Condition

Honestly, what can I say about Murderbot that hasn’t already been said? Murderbot is a cult-level sci-fic success, and rightly so. I thoroughly enjoyed Artificial Condition, and highlighted lines liberally. If anyone ever tries to say that a story or series of stories starring a neurodivergent asexual with anxiety wouldn’t sell, please point them this way. Because Murderbot is all of that, in a constructed body, and “yet” is totally relatable. Whether Murderbot is overwhelmed by socializing with humans and wants to sink into mindless activity to recover, or or is trying to safely, independently navigate a world that views Murderbot as “less than”, as dangerous, as something to be controlled, or just trying to figure out how to successfully interact with humans, Murderbot is relatable. and delightful.

Aside from the depiction of Murderbot as essentially asexual and neurodivergent, I also appreciate the diversely populated world Murderbot navigates. Diversity of race/ ethnicity, of gender, and of sexuality, as well as polyamory/ family units. This diverse world setting enriches the story.

Overall, just a fun read, much like everyone else has said. This was a getaway mission with related adventures and our first (and hopefully not last) encounter with ART, the research transit unit with a personality to equal Murderbot’s own. I’m very much looking forward to escaping my own confusing and exhausting world with the rest of the fun, relatable, easy-to-read books in this series. 

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Where Hope Comes From

I’m embarrassed that a book that gave me so much hope and comfort during a dark time could also take me so very long to review. I wanted to shout my appreciation for Where Hope Comes From by Nikita Gill from the rooftops, but perhaps for fear of not doing it justice, or because most of my mental energy was focused on adulting while surviving each day of a global pandemic, and didn’t leave much energy for writing/ creating on my own, or some other combination of factors, I did not. Instead, I read this book, slowly, in the evenings before I fell asleep, cherishing each gentle, hopeful poem, relating to so many of them. I’m not a poetry connoisseur, but I found the poems in this collection lovely as well as relatable, full of imagery of nature and the human heart and the impact of life-changing events on individual humans. What do the giant patterns of civilization and pandemics imprint upon humans in general, and specifically on individual humans? What does it mean to stay indoors? To hope against hope to survive, and to see one’s loved ones survive? To struggle with loss, and broken relationships while also being grateful for our own continued existence?

I love Where Hope Comes From so much that I immediately preordered a copy, and it is now a cherished part of my library, with pages dog-eared and highlighted, from Nikita Gill’s reflective forward, to Reasons to Live Through the Apocalypse to A Reminder from Smaller Beings to How to Be Happy Again. But perhaps the poem which resonates with me the most is simply titled It’s 2020:

“And everyone I know is on the verge
of breaking down.
Or has broken down.
Or has felt more tragedies

than the cosmos truly intends
for a person to feel.
And it’s hard to say
This too shall pass,

Because we don’t know if it will.
None of the clichés work.
Not while the world
stands still.

All we can do is pray.
All we can do is not blame each other.
And wish we had enjoyed one another
a little longer the last time we were together.

What is left but
to promise that when we next meet,
we will be kinder.
And fight for a better future together.”

So I am enduringly grateful that #NetGalley and Hachette granted me a temporary digital advanced copy of #WhereHopeComesFrom that I could cherish and find comfort in during these continued pandemic years. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I had never heard of Nikita Gill, or her Instagram poetry account, prior to requesting this book, but now I am going to seek out all her work, both published and online, and hope you will do the same. 

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The Listening House

The Listening House by Mabel Seeley was an unexpected treat of a mystery novel. I’d never even heard of Mabel Seeley before, despite her apparent success as a mystery writer in her lifetime. But when this book came through my library, and caught my eye with its slightly retro cover, I was curious. The back cover alludes to the Great Depression, an era I find fascinating, and calls this a classic mystery, but it wasn’t until I did a little more poking around online that I realized that The Listening House is indeed a reprint of a classic novel not only set in the 1930s, but also written and published then. Plus, the story itself sounded intriguing, so I checked out a copy of it.

At a point in time where I still struggle to concentrate on reading anything longer than social media posts, I finished this book in about 2 days. I hated having to put it down for adulting and work. I stayed up far too late at night reading it (and was a little jumpy as a result).The setting is richly atmospheric and mildly ominous. The mystery was well-plotted and kept me guessing until the very end.  The primary characters are interesting and complex, with a strong, sassy, and independent heroine I would swear had been written today, did I not know otherwise.There’s a romance, but it’s not the focus of the story, and felt rather unconventional. I didn’t love the very end of the story for reasons related to the romance, but I think that manner of romantic resolution was a trope of the time. It was otherwise a satisfying ending.

I was nervous that the generalized racism of the era would be reflected in this story, but then it turned out that there was no diverse representation among the characters, which did reduce the chances of anything racist being said. The worst comments in the book were the implication that a character being French Canadian was part of the reason she was slovenly, and some descriptions of a very fat character that seemed unnecessary and uncomfortable.  Of course there’s sexism present that the main character, young and unemployed divorcee Gwynne, had to deal with, but it’s mostly presented as an annoying inconvenience.  My only other warning would be that some pets, to whom the main characters are not attached, meet an untimely end, although off page.

So overall this is a fun, fast-paced, atmospheric mystery novel that I would definitely recommend. I’m looking forward to reading more of Mabel Seeley’s work.  My biggest complaint right now is that Berkley denied my request for an advanced copy of her next book that they’re rereleasing (The Chuckling Fingers), so I’ll have to wait until it hits the local library, like everyone else.  For now, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, but do so on a day when you have time to read it, because you’re probably not going to want to put it down either.

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When We Went Wild

When We Went Wild by Isabella Tree is a pretty picture book with a good message, that nonetheless suffers from pretty heavy handed messaging. I realize books for kids need to simplify complex issues, and organic farming and developing wild spaces are issues I care about. And yet somehow I found myself almost rolling my eyes at passages in the book. Didactic. Preachy. Well-intentioned but pushy. Those words and phrases all come to mind.

Which is unfortunate, because the art is charming in both style and subject. The British countryside is picturesque. And, like I said, the moral of the story is an important one, and is also based on true stories, including the author’s own experiences. Maybe children, as the intended audience, won’t mind, and will simply understand the story and feel bad for the sad cows and pigs before, and the happy birds and butterflies afterwards. And maybe adults sharing this book with a child will think twice about using pesticides, and instead consider letting parts of their outdoor spaces be a little more wild and natural. And think about how rewilding’s ability to absorb more water will benefit all developed areas, in this age of catastrophic flooding.  I hope so, but I am not confident that will happen.

For that reason, I’m not sure I’d wholeheartedly recommend When We Went Wild. I’d at most recommend with the above caveats. If it sounds like a message important enough to put up with a little preaching, or you just want to admire the illustrations, you may enjoy it more than I did. Thank you anyway to #NetGalley and Ivy Kids for allowing me to read a free temporary digital advanced copy of #WhenWeWentWild in exchange for an honest review.

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Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari is a vibrantly bright and beautiful children’s’ picture book. The book revels in a simple Indian ritual, a little girl and her mother getting off their train together for a chai break. They order chai and snacks from the chaiwala (chai vendor) and savor their treats before boarding the train again. For such a small book and simple story, it is a treat for the senses, with bright, beautiful artwork and a cozy story that revels in the many pleasures of chai: the sights, the smells, the tastes, even the sounds of preparation and the sensation of sipping warm milky chai, and of dipping rusk (a very dry bread or cake) in it. The other passengers and customers are depicted in a range of bright attire, from traditionally dressed uncles and aunties to observant Sikhs and more contemporary secular attired adults. The book is such a treat, effective at immersing the reader in the moment, and would surely be a delight to share with the children in your life. I’m looking forward to more books by this author. Highly recommended.

Thank you to #NetGalley and Owlkid Books for sharing a temporary digital advanced copy of #Chaiwala with me in exchange for an honest review.

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The Way to Treasure Island

The Way to Treasure Island by Lizzy Stewart is a whimsical children’s picture book about Mathilda, an extremely logical and organized child, and her pretty absentminded (honestly kinda useless) but fun and creative father who go on an adventure together following a treasure mapThe art is bright and full of movement, teeming with depictions of nature. Lessons to take away from this include the benefits of working with people who have different temperaments and abilities, and of stopping to appreciate the beauty around us, and of how much easier life can be when we follow directions.

It’s not a bad story, but I don’t love it, and am not sure I’d think to recommend it for kids. The father really is silly and irresponsible on level with a golden retriever much of the time, and I don’t enjoy stories that normalize parentalized children and irresponsible parents. Also, the treasure is going to be a let down for most readers. I get what the author was trying to say about appreciating the beauty of nature, but it really felt anticlimactic after all Matilda’s work herding her father and following the map. Like there could have been better ways to represent the principles the author was trying to convey. So for me this story is just OK.

Thanks anyway to #NetGalley and Quarto for granting me a temporary digital advanced copy of #TheWayToTreasureIsland in exchange for my honest review

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The Way of the Hive: A Honey Bee’s Story

The Way of the Hive by Jay Hosler is an interesting and engaging graphic novel fusion between anthropomorphized animal fiction and cleverly incorporated science nonfiction about honey bees. I understand that this is a colorised rerelease previously published as Clan Apis, but as I never read the original publication, I don’t have much perspective beyond that. However, I enjoyed The Way of the Hive–the art is bright and cheery and evocative, with so many details that back up the scientific data we are learning about the world of honeybees from our narrator, the honeybee Nyuki. We follow Nyuki from the beginning of her life to the end, and along the way learn about the entire life cycle of honey bees and the world they inhabit. It’s heavily anthropomorphized, as I mentioned, with humorous dialog and a goofy but likable main character, as well as her friendship with other bees and even a dung beetle. I’m not sure what the name Nyuki means, but later in the story, her friend is named Melissa, which means “bee”, so I found that clever too. It was a fun read. 

I think this book is smart enough, with nice enough art, to be enjoyable for adults, but interesting and compelling enough, without being too complicated, for younger readers to enjoy as well.  I could see it being a good addition to school libraries.  I enjoyed this quick and easy read, which I finished in one sitting. Thank you to #NetGalley and Harper Collins for sharing a temporary advanced digital copy of The Way of the Hive with me in exchange for an honest review. 

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Teatime at Grosvenor Square

Teatime at Grosvenor Square by Dahlia Clearwater is a light-hearted cookbook tangentially related to Netflix’s Bridgerton television show. The food photography is stellar. Every photo made my mouth water. Unfortunately for me, the recipes aren’t very flexible for restricted diets. They rely heavily on wheat flour, sugar, dairy and eggs, as well as nuts. One gelled dessert recipe called for agar-agar “as a vegetarian substitution”, but it’s placed next to a recipe that uses gelatin, so the logic for the substitution was unclear. A lot of the recipes, while they look and sound delicious, also seem like a lot of work, in ingredient list, steps required, and prep time involved.  And there are some uncommon ingredients called for in some of the recipes (Where does one find cups of gooseberries for sale?). 

The connection to Bridgerton is really very loose too–recipes could be named after a character simply because they were the same color as the theme of a ball she hosted, for example. If you are a die-hard Bridgerton fan, this might not have the information and analysis you’re seeking.  If you enjoy historically inspired cookbooks, this is unlikely to satisfy either, as there’s not much focus on keeping recipes historically accurate or even possible. Some of the ingredients called for or recipes suggested were unlikely to be available in England in the time period Bridgerton is set.  

If, however, you’re a fan of the Great British Bake Off, as well as of Bridgerton, and enjoying taking time to craft decadent dishes for yourself or the other omnivores in your life, this could be a great fit. You can make homemade clotted cream and orange marmalade to your heart’s content, serving it with decadent pastries and rich savory dips, before diving into a few rich main course dishes, and washing it all down with a few fancy cocktails.  Or you could just do like I do and read for enjoyment of food photography and fancy recipes I’ll likely never even try making. 

Thank you to #NetGalley and Skyhorse Publishing for sharing a temporary digital #advancedcopy of Teatime at Grosvenor Square with me in exchange for an honest review.

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